Casual, unsuspecting visitors to the Orlando Gallery in Sherman Oaks might do a double-take when they find a gallery full of drawings by 17th century French artist Jean-Claude Mur Dubois. This is the same gallery that for more than four decades has shown the work of local contemporary artists.
Actually, the featured artist is a figment of the fertile imagination of Don Lagerberg, a conceptualist crackpot who also happens to be a fine artist with a fetish for art history. In an extensive statement on the wall, Lagerberg presents himself as the "producer" of this show of recently discovered work by an obscure artist. At one point in the essay, Lagerberg writes: "There is an opinion, held by a stubborn few, that Jean-Claude may never have existed at all!"
"Perhaps he was the Alan Smithee of the 17th century," he said, referring to the standard pseudonym taken by film directors who don't wish to have their real names associated with a film.
Or perhaps this is the latest feather in the chapeau of Lagerberg, who has often dipped into art history for inspiration and reference in his work. In the process of creating this body of work by a faux artist, Lagerberg concocts an elaborate ruse, pulled off with consummate drafting skill and a (mostly) straight face. Dry humor creeps in at regular intervals in this show, such as in the sketches for a lesser-known fountain at Versailles of a "frogman," like a goofy reptilian variant on a Minotaur.
There are other mysteries afoot. "Ceiling Figure at Illusionistic Cornice" presents a Rubenesque nude figure (to mix historical references) seen from below and flanked by an unexplained mass of fabric, or is it a figure?
In his texts about Jean-Claude, Lagerberg gently stabs at scholarly hairsplitting. But he stops short of turning the project into strictly a lampoon, showing admiration for the carefully emulated aesthetics of a rich historical period. Beyond the satirical aspect of the show, it also offers a ripe excuse for Lagerberg to demonstrate his own merits in the traditional art-making.
It's only fitting that Lagerberg has mounted one of the year's better shows in this space. He is a veteran with the gallery, having first shown with the Orlando 35 years ago, and at various intervals since.
"Selections From the Recovered Drawings of Jean-Claude Mur Dubois," by Don Lagerberg, through Nov. 7 at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; (818) 789-6012. "Orlando," through Nov. 20 at CSUN Art Dome, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Hours: Monday and Saturday, noon-4 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; (818) 677-2226.